The Water Board voted to increase the 2013 rate by 7 percent last week, despite weeks of opposition from the public in hearings held around the city.
Although the rate is the lowest increase in seven years and is 25 percent lower than what was expected at this time last year, according to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), critics say the rate increases every year to some degree, and needs to be capped.
Even with the 7 percent hike, water rates in New York City are among the lowest in the nation, even though DEP manages a system that includes 19 reservoirs, 295 miles of tunnels and aqueducts, 14,000 miles of water and sewer mains, and 22 wastewater treatment plants.
However, a series of budget-tightening measures over the last three years allowed DEP to keep the rate increase low this year, Commissioner Carter Strickland said in a statement.
For example, under the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan, an agreement reached with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the city deferred $2 billion in capital investments while at the same time achieving higher water quality, according to DEP.
“The lower-than-expected rate increase demonstrates our commitment to keeping rates low while delivering the renowned service that residents deserve,” Strickland said.
“Though rate increases are difficult during tough economic times,” he added, “we are moving in the right direction and maintaining the highest standard of quality New Yorkers have come to expect.”
Although DEP was able to defer or eliminate more than $5 billion in unfunded mandates, Strickland said at a Water Board hearing at Christ the King High School in Middle Village on April 26 that unfunded mandates are the main driving force behind increasing water rates.
Regardless, legislators such as Assemblyman David Weprin recently introduced bills to cap the annual water rate increase at 5 percent.
He also introduced a bill to restructure the Water Board, so seven of its members would be appointed by the mayor, one by the City Council, one by the comptroller and one by the public advocate.
Weprin said it is a conflict of interest for the Office of Management and Budget to appoint the Water Board members.
A third bill Weprin introduced would prevent the city from forcing homeowners to pay charges associated with their water bills while they are appealing decisions to keep them from facing late penalties and possible liens on their homes until a final decision is reached.
“Many New Yorkers affected by the recent economic downturn are already struggling to pay their water bills at the current rate. Yet, the New York City Water Board continues to raise water rates year after year,” Weprin said in a statement responding to the rate hike. “The time has come to say enough is enough. These increases are simply unacceptable.”